Volume 2, Issue 71: Cold Slope
|Aug 10, 2019|
I grew up in a small subdivision out by Lake Paradise, outside Mattoon, Illinois, called Carrollton Estates. Carrollton Estates was a fancy name for a collection of five or six houses loosely tied together by a gravel road that ran aside, in front of or around whatever your property was; you didn't so much own a house as much as you owned a plot of land that could have a house on it, if you ever got around to it. My dad bought the land in 1979 and went to work on constructing his family a home. He wheeled me out a black-and-white television that I watched while sitting on a folding chair as power tools whirred all around me. Ours was one of the first houses built out there, and we moved in shortly after my sister was born in April 1980.
It was not a suburb -- there was nothing to be a suburb of -- but the little subdivision served the same purpose: A place somewhat enclosed and somewhat displaced from the outside world, a place where kids could run around from yard to yard, play basketball in driveways, be outside and away without being able to get too far or in too much trouble. It was a place to let us run free but still be safe. The goal was to be safe.
The gravel road of Carrollton Estates ran in an upside-down U, looking like a tuning fork. When you pulled into the subdivision, you could go left or you could go right, but you were hitting a dead end either way. We lived at the end of the left dead end. It was right here. It looked like this:
That tuning fork was ideal for a kid who got everywhere by his bike. That gravel road allowed me to ride back and forth, up and down, all day, without ever coming across any danger. No cars speeding down the freeway, no angry unknown dogs attacking out of nowhere, no strangers and their vans creeping around the corner. It was the sort of place you could spend a whole summer not seeing anyone you didn't already know. You were protected. All neighbors knew each other and watched out for each other. Bad things and bad people could not get in.
So, age seven, the same age my oldest son is now, my summer was just riding that bike. I had an old dirt bike that was a hand-me-down from my cousin Denny; all his buddies in town had cool BMX Diamondbacks, and he had to have one, so I got his old one, the one that was rusted, with all the rubber worn off the handlebars and most of the tread worn off the tires. It did not matter. A bike was freedom. A bike was a getaway.
My dad, like most dads of Carrollton Estates, was off at work all day, so the only people there all summer were tired moms, antsy kids and retired folk. I just zipped that gravel road on that beaten-up bike, pedaling, popping wheelies, occasionally finding an old piece of wood or a sharp rock I could make a little ramp out of. You kept yourself occupied how you could. You filled your days with what you found. It would get so hot outside. Everybody knew everybody. You were bored, but you were safe.
It was an August afternoon, scorching, when I crashed hard outside the McGovern house. Rick McGovern was a retired factory worker who lived on the other side of the turning fork and spent most of his days mowing his grass and sitting on his porch and scowling. He wore overalls and a John Deere hat. His wife always seemed to be wearing a large polka-dotted nightgown that she wore all hours of the day. She rarely came outside.
The McGovern house had the loosest gravel out in front of it, and it was my most common place to crash. There was a smooth, lightly paved straightaway right up to their curve, and the loose stuff came on you fast, and every sharp turn skidded rocks every which way. This day, I came in too fast, and my mind was wandering, and it was so hot. My back wheel spun out behind me, and my front handlebars locked and jammed, and I flipped over the handlebars. I have a vivid memory of being airborne, weightless. I remember it as clearly as I remember typing this sentence to you. I was in the air for hours.
I landed on my face and my right wrist. I landed about 10 feet in front of Rick McGovern, who was sitting on his front porch and watching the whole thing. I pulled myself up and steeled myself not to cry; Dad didn't want me to let other grownups see me cry. I wiped my face and saw blood on my hand. That hand was scraped up pretty good, but it didn't hurt unusually fierce. It just felt like everything was lightly burning.
Rick McGovern stood up from the porch and walked over to me. I straightened myself, wiped some pebbles off my bloody knee and said, "Sorry about that, sir." I went to pick up my bike, but he stopped me.
"Did you hurt your hand?" he said, grabbing it and putting it in his massive, meaty palm.
"A little," I said. "But I'm OK."
Rick McGovern pointed to a spot on my right hand, just below my right thumb, that was bleeding a little and had some loose skin hanging off it. He looked at it, then looked around, then looked back at me.
He then took the long, gnarled fingernail on the index finger of his right hand, said, "does it hurt right here?" and, with focus and concentration, dug it as deeply into the wound as he could.
He then wedged it in deeper, than yanked it left, then right, pushing in, pulling hard, wearing a widening ridge into the backside of my hand.
I screamed. He let go then.
Rick McGovern stood up, walked back to his porch and said, "You best get getting home now, have your mom clean that up." Blood was now pouring down my wrist and up my arm. I picked up my bike, walked it home, sobbing the whole way.
I told my mom what happened. She didn't believe me. How could she? Why would nice old Rick McFarland purposely scrape his fingernail into your hand? You always go too fast around that turn. We need to get you back to school. All you kids do out there all summer is hurt yourselves and cause trouble.
I took that turn as slowly as possibly after that and never even looked in Rick McFarland's direction. He would stop and wave to my parents when he saw them, friendly as ever. He borrowed tools from my dad sometimes. He died a few years later. I don't know who lives there now.
I have a scar in the shape of an old dead factory worker's fingernail just below my right thumb to this day. You never know what people are capable of. You never know who's around the curve.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.
1. The Best Player at Each Age, MLB.com. This was an idea they came to me with that I found a terrific one, and I tried to execute it right. I think I want to do this one every year.
2. Alejandro Bedoya, Trend Setter, New York. Didn't nail this one, but it's an intriguing idea.
3. Rick Chandler Is The Reason You're Reading This Site Right Now, Deadspin. The folks at Deadspin asked if we could repurpose the newsletter about Rick a couple of weeks ago for the site, and I was honored to do it. I love that picture of Rick.
4. Data Decade: Best Starting Pitchers of the Decade, MLB.com. This series got pushed aside for a couple of weeks, but it's back now.
5. Golf Magazine Instructional Column No. 8: Preparing to Hit the Course, GOLF Magazine, print only. I'm actually in Chicago next week for this column. It is embarrassing how long it has been since I was in Chicago.
6. Melissa McCarthy Movies, Ranked and Updated, Vulture. With the new one The Kitchen.
7. The Thirty: What Players Will Still Be on Their Teams in 2026? MLB.com. An annual fun one.
8. Will We Have a Historic Number of 100-Win Teams? MLB.com. Probably!
9. Debate Club: Scary Dolls! SYFY Wire. All dolls are scary.
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
We nailed down our plans for Season Three when I was in NYC last week. So catch up on all the ones you've missed as we start making another one on Amazon or on SI TV.
Grierson & Leitch, "Hobbs & Shaw," "About Time" and "Perfect Blue.
Seeing Red, Bernie and I did two shows next week because I'll be in Chicago during our usual tape time.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, our big national preview. Weekly shows have begun!
GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL POWER RANKINGS
I don't know if Beto O'Rourke helped his Presidential campaign this week, and I don't care. It was obvious how affected he was by the shooting in his hometown, and how much that town needed him to speak for them, that it's a reminder he's a good person who can do some real good. I was very moved by him this week. I was very moved by a lot of things.
1. Kamala Harris
2. Elizabeth Warren
3. Cory Booker
4. Joe Biden
5. Beto O'Rourke
6. Kirsten Gillibrand
7. Jay Inslee
8. Amy Klobuchar
9. Pete Buttigieg
10. Steve Bullock
11. Julian Castro
12. Michael Bennet
13. Bernie Sanders
14. Seth Moulton
15. Tim Ryan
16. Tulsi Gabbard
17. Bill de Blasio
18. Tom Steyer
19. John Hickenlooper
20. William Weld
21. Marianne Williamson
22. Andrew Yang
23. John Delaney
24. Wayne Messam
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
Mailbox getting light! Get on it. Bring 'em on at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
"Summer Years," Death Cab for Cutie. Yeah, I probably should have been listening to this album a long time ago.
The children are back in school. They return earlier in the South than in other parts of the country, and for that, I am forever grateful. These children are the best. But they needed to get out of this damn house.